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Space

Requiem for the Once-Imagined Future 674

Posted by Hemos
from the lament-for-the-dreams-of-yesteryear dept.
Carl Bialik from the WSJ writes "The underwhelming Discovery mission has the Wall Street Journal Online's Real Time columnists lamenting the space program's failure to realize the sort of intergalactic exploration they once imagined as kids through the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. Considering the Viking landers were digging around Martain soil back in 1976, 'we figured the place would be necklaced with orbiters and cris-crossed by rovers by now. Maybe there'd even be astronauts (or cosmonauts or taikonauts) tracing the courses of unimaginably ancient rivers.' Instead, we get a mission whose highlights were 'a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles.' At this rate, the columnists fear the innovations of the future won't be much more exciting: 'Maybe Real Time 2030 will fret about how our college kids do little more than steal full-res holographic porn when they're not getting their financial identities stolen by cyber-jihadists eager to build more backpack nukes.'"
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Requiem for the Once-Imagined Future

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  • Transhumanism goes far beyond most science-fiction (there are a few transhumanist sci-fi materials coming up now). But the key is to think beyond the human before fun space stuff. We'll be powered by lithium-ions, and thus need no oxygen. As we will be engineered machines, the whole terraforming things will be moot.

    Those backpack nukes won't be much of a problem. Tanks for example are quite protected against nukes, and our vastly superior engineered bodies will not have much problems with nukes unless one g
    • by DogDude (805747) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:42AM (#13322152) Homepage
      The things that "transhumanists" describe simply will not be possible? It has nothing to do with technology: it's resources. We're seeing oil prices soar right now. With oil and other basic resources that we need for a modern society quickly dwindling: breathable air, drinkable water, etc. society as we know it will collapse long before most of these pie-in-the-sky ideals are reached.
      • by tgibbs (83782) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:11PM (#13322404)
        The things that "transhumanists" describe simply will not be possible? It has nothing to do with technology: it's resources. We're seeing oil prices soar right now. With oil and other basic resources that we need for a modern society quickly dwindling: breathable air, drinkable water, etc. society as we know it will collapse long before most of these pie-in-the-sky ideals are reached.

        Actually, there is plenty of energy. The sun pumps out far more than we need. We just aren't very good yet at capturing even the little bit that falls on our own planet, not to mention the bulk of it that is radiated off to space. This is very much a matter of technology. As for drinkable water and breathable air, those have actually been improving, and there is potential for technological improvements there as well.
      • We're seeing oil prices soar right now. With oil and other basic resources that we need for a modern society quickly dwindling: breathable air, drinkable water, etc. society as we know it will collapse long before most of these pie-in-the-sky ideals are reached.
        Two words: "Dyson" and "Sphere" [wikipedia.org]
    • by Phoenixredux (901386) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:43AM (#13322164) Journal
      I disagree. One thing that the English language does not lack is superlatives, although sometimes individual speakers forget them and use the same ones over and over. For example, some superlatives inspired by this discussion of "transhumanism" may include: over-blown, phantasmagoric, fantasy, delusional, raving, and lunacy. Don't worry - there are many, many more. The English language holds a depth and breadth greater, in many instances, than those famed Martian canals.
      • Those are adjectives, not superlatives.

        The English language has exactly three ways to form a superlative:

        1. For "simple" adjectives: est
        2. For other adjectives: the most
        3. Irregular superlatives: best, worst, least, most, eldest and furthest.

        The superlatives for each of your adjectives would be:

        the most overblown
        the most phantasmagoric
        the most fantastic
        the most delusional
        the most raving
        the most lunatic

        The one that comes closest to qualifying for an "est" form is raving, but the resulting superlative is not
    • Yes but... (Score:5, Funny)

      by ravenspear (756059) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:57AM (#13322283)
      Tanks for example are quite protected against nukes, and our vastly superior engineered bodies will not have much problems with nukes unless one goes off right by you (get better implanted radar!).

      I can think of a few downsides to having a metal, indestructable body. For example, the sex probably wouldn't be as good.
    • by Bun (34387) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:03PM (#13322333)
      It is hard to imagine anything more repugnant than the 'trans-human' cyborg 'life' you are describing here.
      • by Eunuch (844280) * on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:11PM (#13322403)
        Repugnant. Emotional knee-jerk reaction. I suppose it's a sin too.

        As for repugnant, I happen to think that staying as human is severly repugnant.
    • by Digital Vomit (891734) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:22PM (#13322503) Homepage Journal
      And I bet you any money that, when we reach this stage, we still won't have any damned flying cars!
      • And I bet you any money that, when we reach this stage, we still won't have any damned flying cars!

        Nah, much like the Cylons in the new Battlestar Galactica, we will BE those flying cars!

        I call dibs on the flying Lamborghini design from AutoMan!
    • by Mant (578427) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:47PM (#13322777) Homepage

      That's good--but transhumanist organizations deserve more as it is a far more pressing goal.

      It really isn't

      Space isn't all the pressing given the problems we have on Earth, but I do recognise the value in getting people off Earth for our survivability, science and technology we learn, and less tangible benefits like inspiration and wonder.

      Transhumanism though? A tiny, tiny group of people want to turn themselves into something else. Great, you go work on that, but it isn't a priority at all to the vast bulk of humankind, who wants to stay that way.

      I'll add even if it were to solve current problems, its naive to think there wouldn't be new one. Biological viruses don't kill you but computer ones do. If you "transhumanist" looks like a machine, others will have a lots less inhibitions killing it. I do think some humans will choose to modify themselves in the future, but I don't see any sort of utopia there.

  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:38AM (#13322105) Homepage
    It seems to me as if the "future" is waiting for another kick, the sort of boot-in-the-pants that we saw twice in the last century. Right now, it's stuck. There are a lot of real Buck Rogers-style things that could be going on if only people seriously thought they were possible, if only there was a spark that could get us up and moving again. But that's not going to happen on its own, we need to figure out how to move again.

    I dunno, maybe part of the problem is that progress just outran the global society's ability to adjust at some point -- that definately seems to be the case with a lot of the more disaffected people both in the US and overseas. IMO, the crazed religious zealot in Iran and the crazed Kansas schoolboard member have a lot of root causes in common. Those wackos are extreme examples, granted, but it seems like they're also symptomatic of larger societal problems.

    I'm ready to pick up and keep moving, though, and I think a lot of people of my generation are. We never saw a moon landing; it happened before we were born and, frankly, even if we went back it would seem like old hat. "Yeah, Earthrise. Great, never seen that before". We read about this shit in the *history* books, man. But that's not a bad thing: I suspect a lot of us wouldn't find the concept of, say, mining asteroids as exotic as the Boomers would, and maybe that's all we really need. And hey, if that's possible, if that improves our lot, maybe it'll finally be that human advance where, once it starts, it just continues on and on.

    Of course, speaking of the Boomers, I fear that my generation (I'm 28) might be one of those unlucky historical examples of one which didn't get to do jack shit because they were so busy catering to the needs of their wealthy elders while trying to patch up the disasterous debts they left us. By the time they start to croak en masse it'll be too late to do anything all that interesting -- we'll be too old and too unimaginative, left only with the shadow of the dreams we once entertained.

    Honestly (and sadly), I'm pretty sure that's the direction we're headed in. Happily, however, I also believe it's not too late to change that. That's why I support ideas like the Space Elevator; it's the sort of kick that might get us out of this funk and allow us to overcome the fate of being a generation the just paid too much for their houses.

    • by gcatullus (810326) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:45AM (#13322182)
      Sadly the "kick in the pants" has always been things like a world war or having a well funded arch enemy, like the old US vs. USSR enimity. Adversity breeds inovation. Prosperity breeds complacency. So, be careful what you wish for.
      • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:07PM (#13322376)
        > Sadly the "kick in the pants" has always been things like a world war or having a well funded arch enemy, like the old US vs. USSR enimity. Adversity breeds inovation. Prosperity breeds complacency. So, be careful what you wish for.

        Which is why, for what little it's worth, I was disappointed to find that 2004 MN4 [wikipedia.org] was going to miss the Earth in 2038.

        Because 35 years is just about the right length of time, not just to develop the technology to deflect the thing, but also to generate a new generation of kids - who won't merely value science and engineering as career paths, but who will see them as essential survival tools for the species.

        Instead, we've got a dumbed-down educational system that would make Harrison Bergeron cringe, and the mentality that the only careers worth having are those of criminal/thug, celebrity/whore, or lawyer/lobbyist/politician.

        Fuck it. We deserve to have that rock hit us.

        • by Pfhorrest (545131) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:48PM (#13322779) Homepage Journal
          ...the mentality that the only careers worth having are those of criminal/thug, celebrity/whore, or lawyer/lobbyist/politician.

          So you're saying there's basically just one commonly desirable job in today's market? ;-)
        • I'm not so sure (Score:4, Insightful)

          by second class skygod (242575) on Monday August 15, 2005 @02:04PM (#13323490)
          ... that the world could successfully rally to protect the planet from an asteroid in 35 years.

          First, as you say, new technology would have to be developed and perfected. Not impossible but it's very difficult to predict the pace of such things. If, in fact, it took 36 years we'd still be screwed. Almost making the deadline [pun intended] wouldn't cut it.

          The biggest problem would be mustering the needed level of international cooperation. No doubt the cost of the program would be too much for even the richest nations to go it alone. How many years would go by before enough nations could get together and decide on a plan of action? What would the USA do if 20 years down the road more accurate estimates of the impact point proved that the asteroid was going to impact on the other side of the globe? Would the USA withdraw its participation? I'd like to think not but I've lost much of my faith in American largess. Anyway, balancing an enormous economic drain versus the morality of allowing a serious disaster to occur to someone else (possibly an enemy) would be a serious quandary for any nation.

          The problems are certainly surmountable; in theory. The world's track record regarding other crises is spotty at best. How much progress have we made at:
          eliminating controllable diseases,
          controlling global population growth,
          controlling greenhouse gas emissions?

          The list goes on and doesn't even address the more important but tougher issues like war and poverty. I'm sure someone will come up with a good example where the world got together and solved a problem but overall history shows little that it's rare and difficult.

          So I don't think 35 years is really enough time. I'd say more like 300 years. At least in that much time one could hope for salvation from radically new technological advances such as anti-gravity or really really frickin powerful lasers in space.

          -scsg
    • Don't worry (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CiXeL (56313)
      all those people in china and india have similar hopes and dreams. While our low population gen X may not realize these dreams i guarantee you other countries will. We'll be pulled to the stars on the backs of third worlders.
    • by Monty845 (739787) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:57AM (#13322276)
      It would be great if the Government of the US cared about space. Congress simply lacks the imagination nescessary to understand the value of space exploration. There are several things that need to change if the US (at least the government) is going to get anyway new with space exploration.

      1. Accept that space exploration is risky, people will die, they knew the risk when they signed on, taking reasonable steps to ensure safety - great, stoping an entire program because of a small chance of something going wrong - not so great

      2. Congress needs to think about what is in the best interests of the American people as a whole, not just thier constituents, even better they would think about the best interests of the world.

      3. Congress needs to realize that most great discoveries are not predicted, funding a strong space program could provide unimagined rewards.

      Frankly I doubt thats going to happen. I think the future of space lies in the hands of privite industry, they will find ways to make money is space and that is what will push us into the future. If the Government of the US lacks the will to lead us into space others will step forward eventually.

      -P.S. I know that NASA has plans to go back to the moon etc, but they are not nearly ambitous enough.
      • 1. Accept that space exploration is risky, people will die, they knew the risk when they signed on, taking reasonable steps to ensure safety - great, stoping an entire program because of a small chance of something going wrong - not so great

        Risk is acceptable when the reward is acceptable. Risking your life to just to get to orbit to prove that the shuttle is worth keeping around for a few more years is stupid. Risk is also acceptable when there aren't less risky ways of accomplishing the same thing (like
    • Of course, speaking of the Boomers, I fear that my generation (I'm 28) might be one of those unlucky historical examples of one which didn't get to do jack shit because they were so busy catering to the needs of their wealthy elders while trying to patch up the disasterous debts they left us. By the time they start to croak en masse it'll be too late to do anything all that interesting -- we'll be too old and too unimaginative, left only with the shadow of the dreams we once entertained.

      I used to think the
      • Using laser launch vehicles (or microwave) would cut costs and increase reliability dramatically without the huge risk or initial cost of a space elevator. *And* they could be used for ballistic commercial flights (assuming they could be based near population centers). Anywhere in the world in 45 minutes.
    • by Rei (128717) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:12PM (#13322409) Homepage
      What I don't get is why the author sees the shuttle mission as having anything to do with the Mars mission. What, in his vision of the future, did he not picture people being in LEO as well?

      We do send rovers and orbiters to Mars, all the time - at any point in time, there's usually 2-4 operational rovers or orbiters. So I don't know what he was talking about when he mentioned that he was expecting to see Rovers crisscrossing the planet. Perhaps he wants more capable rovers (ignoring that the current ones gave us a treasure trove of info)? Then don't divert money into manned spaceflight, which is incredibly expensive. Even as is, it won't be long before we get to see Mars Science Laboratory on the Red Planet - a rover the size of an SUV which can take drive around, take core samples, do complete isotopic and minerological determination of samples, and even burn coatings off a rock with a laser from a distance to do spectral analysis.

      Speaking of manned spaceflight, his desire to have people trudging over the red planet ignores one sad, but true fact: chemical energy density isn't getting any better. We somewhat peaked out on fuel potentials in the 1960s. Now, there have been small improvements - for example, strained-ring hydrocarbons may replace kerosene - and there are some interesting "high ISP/high density" fuels that they're trying to stabilize (such as alane - stabilized aluminum hydride); however, the sky is not the limit as far as fuel density goes. And, as chemical fuels look to be our way of getting off the planet any time soon...

      So, what can we advance, as far as getting payload off the Earth is concerned? We've improved engines, but there's only so much performance that improved heat management and refined shapes will get you. We can advance materials, but while we have some great "potential" materials on the horizon (such as nanotube composites and CVD diamond), and superalloys have been coming down in price, we're not the leaps-and-bounds beyond top-tech 1960s materials that would help.

      So, in short, lugging payloads into space on disposable rockets remains expensive. Reusables were supposed to change this, as fuel is cheap; however, at least our first-gen reusable had serious maintenance problems (will a next-gen reusable be better? We'll have to wait and see).

      This is simply the problems on getting large payloads off of Earth. Getting humans to Mars and back safely requires a complex system of precursor missions, engine and power plant development, habitation R&D, lots and lots of shielding research (the "bremsstrahlung issue" from GCR still hasn't been solved), getting reliable long-term use versions of *almost all* of the things that keep breaking on ISS (oxygen generation, water reuse, spin stabilization, etc - you can't just ship up a new one), "large mars entry craft" development (the atmosphere is nothing like ours, and we've only dropped in small craft, which are easier to deal with), dust handling (Mars dust is particularly nasty, with its electrostatic potential and tiny grain size), return fuel generation (optional), and dozens of other issues that the Apollo astronauts never had to deal with.

      In short, the Mars mission is much more complex than Apollo, and yet, our rocket technology, bound by physical constraints and the requisite constraints of a spiral development process, has not come that far. Hence, the cost is high, the immediate payback low, and thus securing funding for it has, to this date, not occurred. It's not a difficult thing to understand. Meanwhile, our various robotic probes and telescopes keep dumping back copious amounts of valuable data to Earth, while tech keeps on advancing at its "slow and steady" pace.
    • Sorry? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by theefer (467185) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:18PM (#13322464) Homepage
      I fear that my generation (I'm 28) might be one of those unlucky historical examples of one which didn't get to do jack shit

      What about witnessing the birth of the Internet, the first ever global web between people on Earth? A revolution doesn't need to be a spectacular effort, it can be a technology that changes society as a whole.
    • We're stuck because we foolishly delegated the future to the government. At the time it sort of made sense, because it cost billions to get off the planet. But now it only costs millions. It's time to take space into our own hands.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:39AM (#13322120)
    You want to talk about the short commings of the predicted future then forget space where is my ROCKET CAR!
  • by vertinox (846076) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:40AM (#13322124)
    Maybe Real Time 2030 will fret about how our college kids do little more than steal full-res holographic porn

    Bah! If it doesn't have full tactile neural input, then I'm not interested.
  • by Ken Hall (40554) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:40AM (#13322130)
    I, for one, am heartened by how much the shuttle has come to resemble the Millenium Falcon. At least in the reliability department.
  • I was promised flying cars by 2000!
  • Project Orion (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:41AM (#13322134) Homepage

    Project Orion [slashdot.org] would have made all these dreams come true. It still can, though we'd probably have to build one of these suckers in space.

    Frankly, for travel in the solar system any other form of propulsion is misguided at best and outright stupid at worst!

    Simon.

    • Link here. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ckwop (707653) *

      Urgh, link here [wikipedia.org]

      Simon.

    • Orion Buff: I'm here to get approval for my spacecraft operations.

      Government Regulator: OK. Now what was the propulsion method again?

      OB: We explode nuclear bombs.

      GR: (blank stare)

      OB: Lots of them.

      GR: (blank stare)

      OB: You know... for the thrust.

      GR: Yes. Well. I'm going to have to ask you to step into the, uh, spproval chamber and Officer Brunehilde will be along to strip sear- check your paperwork in a few minutes.

    • Re:Project Orion (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rei (128717) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:29PM (#13322577) Homepage
      To all the people who keep citing Orion: Medusa [wikipedia.org] has been determined to be better in almost every respect (lighter, can be made smaller, more efficient, less radiation exposure, smoother acceleration, etc - it uses a large sail ahead of the craft instead of a pusher plate behind it). Note that Orion/Medusa doesn't get you off the surface of Earth, or even out of LEO. See problems with the Orion project [alternatehistory.com].

      I think a revolutionary step would be if we could create very *dense* power generation (inertial electrostatic confinement fusion could possibly pull this off, if we could get it to work).

      I ran some numbers on a test MPDT thruster. The thruster weighed 20kg and could consume 7.1 MW of power to produce 90N at 3,100 sec (3 mg/s of argon at 34000 amps). That's 0.45g, for a *lab model*, and not necessarily being run at its limits. It's not hard to picture that with lighter material and process refinement getting several G's of acceleration on an engine of that size (or even more if it scales up better than linearly). The problem is, the *engine* weighs 20kg. Its power source would weigh many tons with current tech.

      It is conceivable that if we could have very dense power generation, we could directly lift off Earth with MPDT thrust. Sadly, we're not even close to that power density present-day.
  • Well... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JonN (895435) * on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:41AM (#13322135) Homepage
    One must consider however that NASA is burdened with political and commercial pressure. However to say that space exploration is hitting a speed bump is quite stupid and incorrect. We are now in the time where personal and commercial space flights are nearing possible. I believe that commercial space flights are where the real adventure is. Sure, they don't have the capabilities that NASA does, however they are advancing their technology, and to have an adventure with one of these companies is a lot easier than becoming a NASA astronaut. If I remember one thing from my childhood, it is watching the movies where the hero jets around in his own space ship, and not having to listen to a governing body as to when and where he could fly.
    • Don't do that! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BerntB (584621) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:08PM (#13322385)
      One must consider however that NASA is burdened with political and commercial pressure.
      You are correct that there might, at last, be something happening in the launch business. But don't forget the last few decades.

      NASA seems to have lobbied to stop other launch systems. To keep job security and their empire at maximum size.

      All the space money went to the shuttle (and to the brutally expensive space station). It costs literally a couple of orders of magnitude more to send a lbs to orbit than NASA promised. (They promised hundreds of dollars/lbs to orbit.)

      All other projects in human history with that kind of failure has been shut down. Often the responsible people were buried alongside, while still breathing.

      To protect the shuttle, NASA (and their allies) murdered the Dream; they fscked our (as in humanity's) future. For job security and kickbacks. This can arguably be called a crime against humanity.

      If you just shrug and say that it doesn't matter, it will keep happening.

      • Re:Don't do that! (Score:3, Informative)

        by AKAImBatman (238306) *
        NASA seems to have lobbied to stop other launch systems. To keep job security and their empire at maximum size.

        Have you been reading Dan Brown again? There is no major conspiracy to keep independent launchers underfoot. Only a massive screw up perpetuated by bad politics.

        The truth of what happened was that Nixon canned the Saturn V program because it was too expensive. He then told NASA to build a trophy vehicle that didn't cost as much and "maintained the US dominance in aerospace." The resulting design w
  • Why Mars? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swamii (594522) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:41AM (#13322136) Homepage
    When we haven't even done much with the Moon? I say start smaller then work our way up. Establish a base on the moon; grow plants in a contained greenhouse, get some population on the moon, make it a place that can sustain life for some time.

    From there, with we'd have better understanding and experience in exploration and cultivation, and thus we could more easily work out our grander visions of Mars exploration.
  • by MrCopilot (871878) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:42AM (#13322146) Homepage Journal
    Instead, we get a mission whose highlights were 'a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles.

    Lest we forget c.)Took out the trash.

  • It seems to me that the "next big thing" that has to happen is that the *nauts need to be able to survive/last the journey to distant places. Currently, places other than the moon, take a really long time to get to. This alone makes human travel infeasible for the near future.

    Anyone know what, if any, inroads are being made in this area?
  • by burtdub (903121) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:43AM (#13322156)
    If only people could stop overly romanticizing/denigrating the past and stop idealizing/fearing the future and just learn to make the most of the present.

    Sigh...

  • It seems that some time ago in my past, I read on the the back of a cereal box that by the time I was grownup I would be driving one of those nifty Jetsons cars that hoover and fly. Do I really have to grow up to get one?
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:43AM (#13322166)
    We're not paying for space travel, or even space exploration. We're paying for programmes. We get a space programme, then another one, then another one.

    When we start paying for results, we'll get space travel and space exploration.

     
  • by SlayerofGods (682938) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:45AM (#13322181)
    Seriously, we need a new power source. As long as we're burning shit to get into space we're never going to be able get anywhere.
    • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:41PM (#13322712)
      We need to invent that glowy crap on the back of every spaceship on TV and in the movies. The Millenium Falcon had no trouble landing and taking off from a planet without a fuel tank... you just turn on the glowy crap, and bam you're there. The starship Enterprise just makes the glowy crap flash really bright, and they're going faster than light itself! Even the Stargate uses glowy crap technology to bridge planets.

      We just need to invent that glowy crap and everything else will fall into place.
  • It's true (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bob3141592 (225638) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:45AM (#13322183) Homepage
    The future is not what it used to be.
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:45AM (#13322187) Homepage Journal
    Considering the Viking landers were digging around Martain soil back in 1976, 'we figured the place would be necklaced with orbiters and cris-crossed by rovers by now. Maybe there'd even be astronauts (or cosmonauts or taikonauts) tracing the courses of unimaginably ancient rivers.' Instead, we get a mission whose highlights were 'a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles.'

    Sadly, it appears most sci-fi writers and buffs were somewhat lacking in the taste of reality department. Economics, i.e. business potential are more likely to drive space exploration than scientific interest. While we're seeing fledgling efforts, it's still a pretty iffy thing to leave a perfectly good planet behind to build a house on the Moon or Mars.

    Seems much of the Sci-fi I've read was more a vehicle for another story, i.e. it's not about the lasers stupid, it's the exploration of man's inhumanity to man, sorta thing.

    Looking at how ultimately fragile our space crafts are, and the terrific amount of stored energy it takes to escape the Earth's surface, the one thing that should come home to people who expect Buck Rogers is this isn't as easy as putting pen to paper and scribbling up interplantetary travel.

    Sadly, the real drama of what has transpired to get this far isn't as entertaining (although The Right Stuff and Apollo 11 took a stab at it) as Star Wars.

    • Yep, the "science" part of Science Fiction is actually quite hard to do.

      Science is concerned with investigating properties of the universe, or of mathematics, that we don't presently understand. Pretty much by definition, that means that we don't know what will result from scientific discovery.

      Generally speaking, however, science tends to confirm in greater detail what we already know. Ho hum. At that rate, reality seems a pretty boring thing to investigate. Of course it's not, but it takes a certai

  • A rule of thumb (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:46AM (#13322193)
    I too grew up on the hard sci-fi, and most of the future has not lived up to my junior high expectations. Now I know that if you want to know what the world will be like in ten years, look back ten years and compare that technology to what you have. Add 5-10%. Adjust interval accordingly.
    • Re:A rule of thumb (Score:5, Interesting)

      by amliebsch (724858) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:01PM (#13322313) Journal
      Really, what happened was that most sci-fi writers at the time guessed completely wrong at what the major focus of innovation, engineering, and research would be. It's not their fault, of course - after all, the things they envisioned are perfectly rational extensions of the most modern trends of their times, and conveniently, made for good stories as well.

      But for each unit of research, much larger results were found elsewhere - namely, in computers and communications. What most sci-fi writers didn't predict (until the trends became obvious) were personal computers cheaper than televisions, and a massive distributed network rapidly assimilating all human knowledge. The average person has an amount of computing power at his disposal simply unimaginable - or worse, impossibly unbelievable - to the sci-fi writers and futurists of the space age.

      I predict that sci-fi writers and futurists who center their stories around extrapolations of today's advances in computing power are similarly missing the next unimagined leap in technology, the seeds of which almost certainly exist today.

      • Science fiction fans and writers undervalued the power of bureaucracy, greed and short-sightedness that would overtake the country since Carter.

        When president Carter was president, we had "Conjunction Junction", we had a push to adopt a metric system, we had recycling and bills to push car MPG ratings. We even forced companies to list the ingredients in the food. In short, there was a push to improve Americans as good citizens.

        Then the politicians so seductive "you are already great and its everyone else's
    • Re:A rule of thumb (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Alex P Keaton in da (882660) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:03PM (#13322332) Homepage
      Ugh- I know- Science isn't what I read about when I was young. Although sex isn't like what I expected from reading Penthouse Forum, either, so I guess I shouldn't have gotten my hopes so high (Or low depending on your morals...)
      We will get back to space- It will just take a fundamental change in attitudes in the World. Much of the space race technology led in part to the current American/British/Russian military dominance. As soon as China starts lobbing things into orbit and sending them to distant planets, Anglo-Nationalism (I know that is a contradiction because Anglos aren't a nation...) will take over and the Americans, with help from our friends the Brits and Japanese etc. will get our asses in gear on the space thing....
  • Culture change (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dal20402 (895630) * <dal20402 AT mac DOT com> on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:51AM (#13322229) Journal
    Now I wasn't alive when our major space triumphs were taking place, so I may be all wet, but it seems to me like there's been a fundamental change in our culture that will prevent us from replicating or exceeding those successes.

    Today, we are obsessed with our own personal wealth. Sure, we think, it would be nice if we could "afford" to do basic research, to spend serious money on exploration -- but no, we can't afford it, because it's more important to be able to buy more fancy cars (or boats or airplanes) than anyone else.

    Reading sources from the '50s and '60s, I get the impression that there was much more concern (possibly driven by the race with the Soviets, but who cares?) for the advancement of knowledge for its own sake. People were much more willing to sacrifice a little bit of wealth for the long-term future of the society.

    I wish people would think less about whether they can afford the electronic seat cooler in their new Benz and more about what kind of society they want to live in over the long term. And, no, I'm not trying to take away anyone's "freedom" -- I'm just exhorting them to think less shortsightedly.

    • Re:Culture change (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HanzoSpam (713251)
      Now I wasn't alive when our major space triumphs were taking place, so I may be all wet, but it seems to me like there's been a fundamental change in our culture that will prevent us from replicating or exceeding those successes.

      Yep. But you've got it exactly backwards.

      Reading sources from the '50s and '60s, I get the impression that there was much more concern (possibly driven by the race with the Soviets, but who cares?) for the advancement of knowledge for its own sake. People were much more willing to s
  • This just in! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swelke (252267) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:52AM (#13322236) Homepage Journal
    This just in! As a way to get into space, the space shuttle sucks! Wow, that's amazing. Do you mean that all of those glowing reviews of it I've heard for as long as I can remember (I'm 23) were bull?

    Seriously though, a lot of science fiction writers have been warning us about just what is happening. If we focus on "solving all our problems on the ground first" then we'll never move into space properly. The same will happen if we're too pussyfooted to accept the occasional death due to space travel. It's already safer than any major frontier exploration in history. (I'm not saying we should waste astronauts, but that doesn't mean we should quit going into orbit for 2+ years just because a few die either.) If we don't go out and build something semi-permanent beyond Earth (the Moon or the asteroid belt, maybe Mars) pretty soon, we're going to end up screwing things up on Earth badly enough (economic collapse, ecological disaster, evil killer robots, whatever) that we can't go to space. In the long run, having groups of humans separated by a few million miles is probably the best way to keep us from killing each other all the time.
  • by revscat (35618) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:52AM (#13322240) Journal

    I think this highlights the fundamental difficulty we face in getting elsewhere in the universe, namely the difficulty of getting enough energy to move stuff around. This is not an easy nut to crack, and despite optimistic predictions it is quite possible that it is one that is insoluble. Yes, we have had many scientific breakthroughs throughout human history. Yes, naysayers are frequently proven wrong. But "past success is no indicator of future performance", as the disclaimer says, and I think this is no different.

    Until we are able to get bodies of non-trivial mass to speeds that are an integer percentage of light speed we will for all practical purposes be stuck on this zealot-infested rock. Getting men and women into space and having them survive is extremely difficult even for the short periods of time the STS is in orbit. This shows that allowing them to survive for months on end is a nigh-impossible task without some fundamental advances, and there are no areas in physics that we can look to for hope in this regard.

    Yes, it's possible we may one day colonize Mars, Kim Stanly Robinson style. But I doubt it. Just because it is wished for and can be imagined does not mean it is physically possible in any real sense.

  • by zapp (201236) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:53AM (#13322242)
    The only reason we ever made it into space was competition with the Russians. Technology has never been the limitation, only social interest and drive.

    It is hard to justify the cost of "the future" when there is still so much turmoil and suffering on the surface of our own planet.

    I usually try to avoid politics and social debates, and I'm all for space exploration, but can you really tell me people in the USA or the world should go hungry or go without health care while we spend billions on sending people to space?
    • Yes, I can really tell you that. The thing is, we don't know how to fix the "people go hungry" problem, because it's a social problem. There's plenty of food in the world, and mostly people go hungry when dictators use starvation as a weapon. Sure, it would be nice to fix that, but it's not the sort of problem you can fix by throwing a few billion dollars at a room full of engineers. To quote PJ O'Roark: you can't cure poverty by giving people money.

      Meanwhile, sending people into space *is* a problem we
    • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:29PM (#13322578)
      but can you really tell me people in the USA or the world should go hungry or go without health care while we spend billions on sending people to space?

      Hmmm. Yes.

      In the sense that people going hungry is a result of behaviors that hundreds of billions of dollars won't (and, even as we spend them, can't) fix. Throwing money at social problems doesn't always fix them, and sometimes makes them worse (see the comparitive self-sufficiency of kids born to other kids completely hooked on welfare, etc.). These are generally cultural issues, and it's simply going to take time. Twice the money in schools today won't make parents born 20 years ago any better at raising children right this minute. Those kids aren't going to be hungry at any time during their lives unless it's because they're not participating in the wider economy, and keeping that economy growing, efficient (through technology and its shrewd use), and reaching into new areas, is the best way to make that happen.

      Yes, there are going to be circumstances beyond each of some individuals' control, and you can be born to parents that simply don't care whether or not you grow up into a someone who can feed herself. But to the extent that we do put resources into helping out people in those situations, we're not excluding doing the more magnificent things of which we, as a species and especially as an adventuresome culture, are capable.

      I usually try to avoid politics and social debates

      And, given the breathtakingly adolescent tone saturating most of those conversations (especially on slashdot) I can hardly blame you, but none of the cool nerdy stuff we love happens in a vacuum. Without weaving it into the wider cultural landscape (and the resources therein), the cool nerdy stuff would barely escape a handful of college labs. So fans of all things nerdly need to truly understand the larger societal and politcal contexts in which technology gets funded, used, praised, villified, and considered (too often) mutually exclusive with warmer, fuzzier "humanities" issues.

      If you haven't noticed, though, I'd consider the progress of technology on all fronts to be the single greatest contributor to the conditions in which the potentially "hungry" live in the US. By conditions, I mean, as opposed to, say, that of those poor bastards in Niger, literally dropping dead from lack of food. In the US, you pretty much cannot drop dead from lack of food unless you want to, or are so addled/sick that you can't grasp what's being offered to you. Every city in the country at least has a place to obtain a meal for those that ask, and it's only through even grander technological feats that we polish the efficiencies and productivity that make that largess possible.

      Besides, it's not like the money spent on space programs is actually packed up in boxes and launched into space. It mostly pays people, all of whom themselves buy houses, hire carpenters, rent videos, take the occasional vacation. Certainly some of their effort, put solely into making, say, an MRI machine so cheap and safe that we wouldn't think twice about using it on everyone with a sniffle, insurance or not, might lower the cost of health care a touch. But for that to happen meaningfully, we've got to take the lawyers out of healthcare first. It's not the lack of healthcare for a family that's really horrible, it's the fact that a lawsuit over someone else's test regimine, or the insistence on the use of fantastically costly drugs can burn up more "healthcare dollars" for one family than basic good care for 50 families would otherwise cost.

      Of course, if everyone who owns a Bentley were to sell them, buy a Scion, and use the extra cash to buy 40 Scions for other people, there'd be less complaining about car ownership, either. But we're not a culture that prohibits the Bentley-ables from celebrating their prowess at basketball, charisma as an actor, insight at founding Google, or willingness to risk a lot on commercial space ventures, and nor should we be.
  • by RickHunter (103108) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:02PM (#13322325)

    You want to know why we don't have a space program like the one you're imagining? Because you and the idiot businessmen you write for decided it was too expensive, and pushed your pet politicians to cut funding for it and dump productive space programs in exchange for pork, business pay-offs, tax cuts, and other corrupt practices. Now you've realized that to expand, your economy needs to go into orbit, and that you needed to fund these things 20 years ago for them to be ready now, and are trying to find someone else to blame for the predicament your greed caused, so as not to risk your grossly overinflated salary.

    Of course, I doubt you'll learn anything from this, as you and said businessmen have, as a collective, the recall and adaptation ability of the average peanut. But on the off-chance that you do, in fact, remember something, I'd like it to include the phrase:

    "Payback's a bitch, ain't it?"

    • Because you and the idiot businessmen you write for decided it was too expensive, and pushed your pet politicians to cut funding for it and dump productive space programs in exchange for pork, business pay-offs, tax cuts, and other corrupt practices.

      As long as we're talking about the shuttle, here, it's interesting to remember that it was the Nixon administration [chron.com] that essentially cooked the numbers to make the shuttle program seem cost-effective, and that got the thing through congress. Meanwhile the Dem

  • by Anonymous Cowdog (154277) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:04PM (#13322348) Journal
    Human space exploration is fun to think about. Migrating tribes colonizing distant planets in other solar systems, and all that. But maybe our early successes have blinded us to the realities. Space is *big*. Human life support systems are expensive (in terms of overall resources including time, not just money).

    NASA's current thinking on space seems to be like dreaming about a fairy land, with chocolate rivers and peppermint trees. Just because we can manufacture candy and we can make a place like Disneyland, doesn't mean that fairylands are going to become real.

    We are doing cargo cult Star Trek.

    And wasting a lot of money on it. Our money would be much better spent on robotic missions, which have a far bigger bang for the buck. And by the time we are ready for a human Mars mission, robots will probably be quite capable of the autonomous thinking and initiative that humans bring to the table. So what purpose is served by spending the extra overhead for human exploration, and doing 1/100th of the science that we could be doing for the same money? None, other than perpetuating a fairyland fantasy.
  • by It doesn't come easy (695416) * on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:05PM (#13322362) Journal
    I for one do feel somewhat cheated by the lack of real manned space exploration in the last 25 years. I am one of those guys who used to read Heinlein and Clarke back when it was not popular to do so (we're talking about ancient history here). However, I'm still optimistic about the future. While we haven't been sending any people to explore the Moon or Mars (or other destinations), the technology we need for practical human colonies on the Moon or Mars has been developing and is just around the corner (told you I was an optimist). Materials science is coming up with remarkable advances monthly. Computer capability is advancing daily. Robotics, genomics, data mining, space propulsion, etc., etc. Nanotechnology promises to bring about disruptive breakthroughs in all of these areas within 10 years. These days if you don't read about a major breakthrough in some tech area daily, it's a slow news day.

    I think it's right for business to get into the business of near Earth space exploration. Real competition between businesses will produce advances. And business competition will be paid for by those who have money, instead of tax dollars that could be better spent solving some of our real problems on this planet. What we need is a framework for that competition (government regulation or the lack of, tax incentives, public discussion, etc.). NASA should concentrate on away-from-Earth space and on developing new technology, or in other words those things that are too risky for business to tackle.

    Just for fun, here's a link to one of my favorite (but weird) space launch development efforts [jpaerospace.com].
  • by jkerman (74317) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:07PM (#13322372)
    The stated goal of the mission was to be a test flight to gather data for future flights. while they were there, they restocked the ISS. Im not sure why the heavy criticism post flight.

    Sure, there is something to be said maybe about "wasting" a mission like that, but they did exactly what they said they would do, and now its a suprise?

    The next flight doesnt have much more of a goal, so why not rip on that instead of the (admittedly low-goaled) extremely successful flight?
  • by jdb8167 (204116) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:10PM (#13322394)
    Something that any one who is concerned that we didn't meet the goals of "golden era" science fiction should consider. Not a single one of those authors envisioned cheap, ubiquitous, and unspecialized computer hardware and software. Not one. The closest was Heinlein and he didn't get very close. See Heinlein's The Rolling Stones or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    I grew up on science fiction in the 70s and recognized around 1977 that things were not going to be like in the books. Just because we didn't meet one goal doesn't mean that we should be pessimistic about the future. What the future holds is unpredictable.
  • by stonedonkey (416096) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:13PM (#13322413)
    Vintage science fiction filled peoples' heads with all kinds of dreamy notions of the human race fanning out to the stars and whatnot, but these pie-eyed imaginings had little understanding for the internia of global identity and the hard realities of applied, long-term space travel -- a domain in which hard radiation reigns supreme.

    Of course, I'm overshooting the topic at hand (Mars), but this is the undercurrent beneath our greatly protracted exploration of our environment. Complicating the fact is that Mars appears to be an essentially dead planet, in which case it's difficult to get people to pay attention when you want to spend (from their perspective) a billion dollars to study rocks on another planet. There is no real, juicy carrot at the end of the stick.

    Meanwhile, our future is mapped by Asimov, Bester, Heinlein, Stephen Baxter, et al... most of whom were scientists. So I find myself amused at their dismissal of the soft sciences, from which I believe they could have drawn some temperament. There's just no way, in my opinion, that the human race is going to spread its wings just because it can. Perhaps I'm overly cynical, but I don't think we'll get our asses of this rock until we've almost completely ruined it. And by then, it may be too late.

    Because in our community, we take intelligence for granted. No, we really do. How many times a day do you find yourself extremely aggravated at the sum of stupidity you deal with on a daily basis? That's because you're encountering the general public, which on the whole is a pretty average bunch of people. But it is this group that holds the reins of the future, for better or worse, primarily through the buying decisions they make and how they choose to conserve, either through recycling or not leaving the tap on when they brush their teeth.

    These people are slow to gather around a movement. They aren't into science fiction. As long as the Right Now is good enough and doesn't give them too many problems, the seductions of gadgetry and possibility aren't quite strong enough to get them on the bandwagon.
  • by gorehog (534288) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:13PM (#13322415)
    So, how many editorials has the WSJ published crying about the expense and wasteful nature of Nasa and the space program? Now that we're running launches on a shoestring (also known as the "Quicker, cheaper, faster" policy)things are bound to be slower, less spectacular and more dangerous.

    My answer? Say fuck off to these semi literate journalists who cant remeber past their last bowel movement. I'm tired of listening to these op-ed managers put a timetable on science and invention. They act like cost overruns at NASA are big news. These are the same people who vote down school budgets and then act surprised by large class sizes.

    Stupidity, my dear editorialist, DOES invalidate your opinion.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:15PM (#13322441) Homepage Journal
    Have you read it recently? It promotes creationism, is virulently antiscience or antilifescience and has never seen a space program it couldn't poke fun at. It's being written by people too fundamentalist to get a job at the National Review.

    Seriously, the WSJ Op-Ed is just this side of insane white mullah
  • by Gruneun (261463) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:16PM (#13322447)
    From the WSJ columnist:

    we get a mission whose highlights were 'a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles.'

    From NASA:

    Several elements will be carried in Discovery's payload bay for delivery to the Station. These include the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Raffaello, containing racks of supplies, food and water, and the Human Research Facility-2 rack. Also, the External Stowage Platform and a replacement Control Moment Gyroscope will be carried in Discovery's payload bay.

    Excuse me for doubting the infinite wisdom of a whiny journalist, but I think I just saw a spaceship take food, water, supplies, and new equipment to a fucking space station. I apologize for not taking that accomplishment for granted. I don't know if I will ever get used to that being a simple, common occurence.

    As for the astronaut who made repairs to the spaceship in fucking space, one has to wonder if the same whiny journalist changes the oil in his own car... on Earth.
  • by iggymanz (596061) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:21PM (#13322493)
    The whole idea was for the shuttles to be used once or twice a week at a cost of $15 - 20M per launch. Instead problems mean we've used them just over a hundred times total at a cost of 1.3 BILLION dollars per launch. Time to pull the plug on this money sewer, it's producing very little science compared to unmanned probes, and doing nothing to colonize other worlds or mine the riches of space. If the money from just two launches were spent on space elevator R&D, we could actually get somewhere....
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:22PM (#13322508)
    Stop using "intergalactic" as a generic term for space! It should omly be used hem speaking of spaces or interactions/interchanges between galaxies. And I don't care what Merriam Webster says. It's wrong and hokey when used generically. And I mean "Far Out Space Nuts" hokey.

    Use "interplanetary" for Solar System stuff and "interstellar" for travel betwwen stars within a galaxy.

  • by Yergle143 (848772) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:23PM (#13322518)
    This article touches on the malaise of the post cold war
    USA but is missing the larger point. Despite the bravado
    of free-marketers to the contrary, big projects that
    do not offer immediate financial windfall simply
    wither and die in our global capitalistic system. Where
    is IGY 'cheap and clean' energy? Why a heath system
    that lines pockets and forgets kids?

    Space exploration and space colonization are akin
    to cathedrals in the sky. While important in terms of
    mass pride they make poor investments (Zubrin's
    economic case for Mars is laughable). Bush's
    repurposing of NASA is an obvious good idea but is
    ultimately doomed unless monies appear (even if
    private contractors do the work). Space will ultimately
    be colonized by creative imitators, political radicals
    or religious dissidents. The USA and Europe no longer
    look to the sky.

    The first Mars colony will belong to the Scientologists
    for the Mormons have taken Utah.

    ---537
  • by netringer (319831) <maaddr-slashdot AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:26PM (#13322553) Journal
    The Science Channel was rerunning old Science TV shows, one of which was "The 21st Century" with Walter Cronkite from the late 1960s.

    One thing he mentions repeatedly is we will have men on Mars by 1985. That was a whole 15 years in the future.

    So just hold yer horses... Oh

    It is facinating to see what our time looked like from there. We had just landed on the moon so why would Mars be so hard? The living room of the future is a hoot. It had a wall-sized flat big screen TV with high fidelity stereo sound. TVs for stock quotes, another for the weather, this one let's you talk to the office. They all had knobs almost bigger than today's MP3 players.

    We did have men on the moon. We could imagine the rest.

    The sad thing is for the last 30 years kids only had a low-performance space truck and a make-work place for it go to think about - all it managed by those who now have to think about how every decision will sound in testimony before a congressional committee.

    Those kids got a raw deal. We're all getting a raw deal.
  • by wandazulu (265281) on Monday August 15, 2005 @01:20PM (#13323057)
    If we base our desires on sci-fi, we might as well base them on the Jetsons..I mean, they had flying cars that became briefcases, a huge computerized workforce, robots, trips to other planets, etc.

    Sci-fi creates a world that suits the creator, and if done well, draws the user in. But the creator would never finish the thing if s/he had to also talk about how the plumbing works. The fact is there are so many details left out that even Blade Runner, in all its anti-glory, is idealized (how exactly did Decker *pay* for his noodles?)

    Take Star Trek: only the Ferengi talked about money, but apart from hoarding it, it didn't seem like it got used a lot. I seem to recall some talk of "credits", whatever those are, but the real *believable* sci fi has Riker wondering how he's going to pay for that special trip he and Troi have been thinking about, especially based on a military salary.

    "The devil's in the details"...well, they got that one right. The problem is that we dream of a details-free world where men and women live in harmony on Mars doing ... "things". Meanwhile, the reality, when it arrives, is that Susan and Joe MarsPioneer are screaming at each other about her infidelity and his drinking and threatening divorce while Buddy is downloading pr0n and Sis is hanging out with a bad crowd by airlock #2.

    Space exploration doesn't sound so appealing anymore.
  • No business case (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheSync (5291) on Monday August 15, 2005 @01:28PM (#13323154) Journal
    The problem is that there is no business case for space.

    Which is actually untrue. There is a great business case for geosynchronous communications satellites, and new ones are going up all the time, having gone from C-band to Ku-band and now to Ka-band with small spot-beam "cells" for enhanced frequency re-use that will deliver many more channels of HD video.

    But outside of geosynchronous satellites, there isn't much business to be done. I suspect that sub-orbital and LEO space tourism will come about slowly, but that market will remain tight for quite a while due to a limited pool of of risk-taking rich people.
  • by Gldm (600518) on Monday August 15, 2005 @01:52PM (#13323379)
    We're getting bogged down by energy requirements. Oil is going through the roof, batteries are barely crawling along in improvements, fuel cells still cost a fortune, and everyone is still afraid of the nuclear boogeyman.

    What does that leave? Geothermal? Fat chance of seeing that go wide spread. So that leaves solar.

    Why the hell is the moon not coated with solar cells? I mean, seriously. Ok let's say we don't want to change how it looks. The bitch is tidelocked! Just put them on the back! Oh but we'll have to go up there and it'll take forever to build! No it won't. Robots, people! I remember reading in Discover around 1992-93 or so about a new all-electrical process someone had developed for extracting materials from sand. He had a bunch of little robots running around the desert building solar cells out of the raw silicon. The moon's got that in spades, and aluminum for the connections. Yeah the efficiency won't be great but who cares when you have an entire MOON (or even half a moon) of them?

    How do we get the robots there? Send some. But it won't be enough! Self-replicating. Is this really such a hard challenge? We're seeing basic steps towards it today. Tell me it would cost more than a major space program like a Mars trip to get it working and on the backside of the moon.

    How does the power get back? "Laser". But won't it cook the earth? Not if you lock the depression angle so it can only hit geosynchronous orbit and not cross the earth.

    But won't people abuse it and fight over it? Declare the moon array itself public domain. Make all the receiving sattelites privatized to create competition and prevent government death rays. Make all the ground stations government owned to prevent slum-shopping for placements by over-greedy immoral corporations. There, you have a case for competition and a nice construction project for all those 3rd world equator countries with the best views of orbit.

    What would that get you for your hundred billion or so invesment? UNLIMITED POWER! We wouldn't NEED oil, or fusion, or anything else with that running. Want to use it to go into space? Point the lasers the other way and use them with sails or to power ion drive systems. We'd be mining the asteroid belt with Mark 2 replicating robots in no time. Then we have unlimited energy AND unlimited resources.

    Then the real fun starts. Want to end world hunger? Desalinate the ocean and irrigate the entire sahara desert. It'd be cheap. Want to end pollution? Electrochemical reclamation. With virtually free power, post-problem pollution fixes are cheap enough to work. Want to educate everyone? What kind of network can you run when you don't need to worry about electrical losses? Want to cure cancer? There's some promising work with antimatter. Build accelerators to produce it, more efficient ones than the general-purpose kind we have now. Don't want them on earth? Put them on the moon too, make a bigass one around the equator, ship the people there on vacation. Want to get rid of that threatening asteroid headed for earth? Zap it with a petawatt or two before it passes Mars and watch the vapor pressure push it away. Maybe into a nice orbit where we can strip mine it.

    All that aside, biotech is going to be the next kick ass field. Read Wired in the last couple years? We can just about cure f'ing BLINDNESS! Eat that you boomer fossils! We're going to see fixes for spinal injuries, better transplants, a doubling of life span, improved prosthetics or maybe even regrown parts. Think some religious-based policies will stop that? Maybe in the US, that's just going to open the door for someone else to take the lead. We're going to be 130 and bitching our great grand kids want tails and wings for xmas and how immoral it is and back in our days we just hijacked cars on playstation and hacked virtual sex in, and that was fine for us!
  • by hey! (33014) on Monday August 15, 2005 @02:47PM (#13324028) Homepage Journal
    As the saying goes, Necessity is a mother.

    In the 60s, we faced a geopolitical adversary that claimed the tide of history was on its side. Demonstrating, as a nation our technological superiority was a way of disproving this. Maybe going to the moon wasn't necessary before, but it when Kennedy threw down the gaunlet, the world was measuring us on our ability to follow through.

    We don't have anybody we need to prove anything to anymore. Going to the moon will be a huge leap in credibilty to China; going to Mars is not going to make much difference at all to our national prestige. If you've ever coached an athlete, you'll know the best training resource you can have is a rival. It will take more than a moon shot to get us to look at China as a serious technological rival. It will take the emergence of a China that can extend its will across the globe in the same way we can, and that's going to be more than ten, possibly twenty or more years out.

    In short, what I'm saying is forget about the US doing any kind of high cost, high profile space exploration anytime in the next couple of decades. There'll be talk about it, but talk is cheap.

    I'm not against manned space flight. And I commend the president for increasing federal R&D to the highest levels since the early 90s. But there's no money for anything that looks like a start for a real Mars effort any time in the next five years, and I don't see why this would change in the five or ten years after that. What I'm against is sacrificing real goals we might actually be willing to pursue for the fiction of pursing more glamorous sounding ones. The worse case is that we continue what we've been doing with the shuttle program -- funding enough to keep our manned space flight program treading water, but not enough to make real progress.

    Better to phase out the manned program as our ISS commitments wind down, than to spend just enough money to maintain a stagnant program. Stagnation is a waste of time, and dangerous. Long term human space exploration would be better served by actual scientific and technological progress, even if it is less dramatic than biting our nails watching astronauts flying inadequate spacecraft.

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